Tomatoes are tender perennials grown as annuals in gardens across the United States. Because tomatoes require a long growing season and thrive in warm weather, purchasing seedlings from a nursery or greenhouse typically provides the biggest and best tomatoes. Choosing a variety of tomato suited for your area is an important decision. Days to maturity for tomatoes, from the time of planting the seedlings to tomato harvest, range from 45 days for ‘Sub Arctic Plenty’ tomatoes to 85 to 90 days for late varieties. Replanting tomato seedling from peat pots or plant trays into the garden soil is referred to as transplanting.
Prepare a garden area in a location that receives full sun for 6 to 8 hours a day. Till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Remove rocks and break up clods of soil.
Perform a soil test on the soil, particularly if it is new garden site, to determine the nutrients in the soil and the pH level. A simple test kit from the hardware store provides a quick analysis of your soil, but your local cooperative extension office can provide a more thorough evaluation of your soil.
Amend your soil following the recommendations contained in the kit, or in the soil summary from the testing service. This typically involves adding organic matter, in the form of compost or manure, and fertilizer. It may include adjusting the pH level with lime, sulfur or aluminum sulfate.
Till the amendments into the soil with a garden tiller. Rake the area smooth and mark your rows. Space rows 36 inches apart for tomatoes. This allows room for cultivation and ensures adequate air circulation.
Dig holes for the tomato seedlings spaced so their centers are 24 to 36 inches apart in the row. Holes should be approximately 8 inches deep and 12 inches in diameter.
Add 2 to 4 cups of well-rotted manure or compost to the planting hole. Work it in with the existing soil. This functions as a starter fertilizer and gives the young seedlings a good start.
Pour 2 quarts to 1 gallon of water into the hole. Allow the water to drain into the soil at the bottom of the hole. This provides moisture for young roots.
Lay the tomato seedling down in the hole, horizontally and gently bend the stem upward so the top 3 to 4 inches of the plant rests above the soil level. Fill in around the tomato seedling with soil. Roots form along the underground stem, creating a strong root system. Firm the soil down with your hands to secure the plant and remove air pockets.
Water thoroughly to moisten the soil to the root level. Repeat watering when the soil feels dry to the touch 1 inch below the surface of the soil.
Things You Will Need
- Garden tiller
- Garden rake
- Garden spade
- Soil test kit
- Soil amendments
- Tomato seedlings
- Plant tomato seedlings on an overcast day to lessen the stress from the hot afternoon sun.
- Do not transplant tomato plants to the garden until all danger of frost has passed.
- Harden off tomato seedlings by gradually exposing them to the outside elements a week or two before transplanting to the garden. Plants that have not been hardened off are susceptible to damage from winds or direct sun.